Bill '55, '61 and Marlene Wentz' influence is strong even after retirement
Their endowed gift for engineering students will have a lasting impact
Bill and Marlene Wentz are pictured in the foyer of the National Institute for Aviation Research building, a structure Bill helped shepherd to completion when he was NIAR director in the 1990s.
For Bill and Marlene Wentz, Wichita State has always been their community.
The two grew up with the WSU campus practically in their back yards, and when they married, they raised their sons and made a home just a few blocks away for 30 years.
Bill Wentz graduated from University of Wichita in 1955 with a bachelor’s degree and received his master’s in aeronautical engineering in 1961, then his doctorate, before launching a teaching career that lasted more than 30 years. He and Marlene socialized with WSU colleagues and Bill fervently supported Shocker athletics through years.
In essence, Wichita State became part of their family.
“We always knew we wanted to support it with an endowment of some sort, but we just hadn’t settled on how,” says Wentz, a professor of aerospace engineering who also headed the National Institute for Aviation Research from 1989 to 1998. Though he retired in 1999, he remains professor emeritus, co-teaching an engineering class every spring and also guest lecturing.
The how became clear last winter, when the couple established the Bill and Marlene Wentz Student Sustainable Engineering Research Fund to help students pay for the costs of their research projects.
Through the years, Wentz had seen cases where students ran into financial difficulties trying to complete research projects without adequate personal funds. Usually, the College of Engineering was able to find the money to assist, but it wasn’t always easy, he said.
“We decided this is one of those places where the college could really use the help, to help deserving students with research that is important and required,” Wentz said.
The college dean has full discretion to make awards from the fund as he sees fit, though Bill and Marlene would like the money to be used for research projects involving sustainable engineering. That’s an area that is near and dear to Bill’s heart; he’s been involved in environmental and other green causes for years.
“Sustainable engineering just means designing products and systems that don’t compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” he says. “It means taking care of our natural resources as best as we can.”
Wentz' tenure at Wichita State was highlighted by his role as director of NIAR when it was growing from a fledgling project in the late 1980s to a multimillion dollar success story in the ’90s. He was head of the institute when money was secured from both industry and government to build the NIAR facility on the east side of campus.
“Those were exciting times,” he recalls. “There were long hours and many challenges, but we made it happen.”
The contributions of Bill and Marlene Wentz will continue at Wichita State for years to come through their endowed gift, one that will help the College of Engineering excel and make a difference in the lives of people around the globe.
If you would like to establish a scholarship or assistance fund to help deserving engineering students, please contact Megan Smith, WSU Foundation director of development for the College of Engineering, at (316) 978-3803 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.